An Interview with Lee Black and Ben Storie

I recently had the chance to catch up with Lee Black and Ben Storie, co-authors of the Talley Trio’s latest single, “Applause.”

DJM: What inspired the song Applause?

Lee: Ben and I met at a writers retreat a few years ago but didn’t have the chance to hook up and write together there. I left that retreat thinking, “I would really like to write with this guy. He’s a great writer. I think we could turn out some good stuff.” Then several months later, Ben contacted me, said he had an idea for a song, and asked if I would be interested in writing it with him. I thought it was a great idea and told him I would love to co-write it. He had most of the first verse and chorus lyric written and emailed them to me. We set a date to meet up via Skype to work on the idea some more. For whatever reason, technology failed us that night and we ended up pretty much finishing the lyric over the phone.

After a first verse on an obvious “well done, thou good and faithful servant” kind of believer, we decided to write a verse about an average Joe living for the Lord. This was just the guy who demonstrated his faith by loving his wife and kids, serving his neighbor, and never really drawing any attention to himself. I think sometimes people get this crazy idea that if you really want to please the Lord, you’ve got to be a pastor or missionary or some other full time vocational minister. So we kind of wanted to paint a picture of someone not in the ministry who’s living a God honoring life.

Then… how long was it, Ben? A couple of months later? We got together at Daywind to work on the melody. That was a good night… because we tweaked the lyric for Applause and wrote the melody. Then we wrote this fun bluegrassy, Christmas song that I really love. So if anybody’s cutting a Christmas record… CALL US! Have we got a song for you! Ha ha!

Ben: My wife and I used to be big fans of Extreme Home Makeover. We’d record it on Sunday nights and watch it after church. I don’t even know how many times we’d both break down and cry hearing these folks who had come through such adversity as they told their stories. Then the Extreme crew would come in and build them a mansion far beyond what they could have ever imagined. And the best part is the big reveal. The family drives up (in a limousine, no less) and are received by this huge crowd of people who are wildly cheering and holding up “welcome home” signs. They’re excited because they have already seen the house. They know what’s in store for these precious people who have been through so much loss, so much hurt, so much tragedy.

Isn’t that picture a shadow of what’s to come when we enter into eternity? The heartache will be behind us. The tears will by long dried. Our faith is no longer needed. Because we are finally seeing heaven. Finally strolling on golden pavement. Finally beholding Jesus. And there’s an multitude who have gone before us. And they’re beside themselves to welcome us home… with deafening applause.
How could I not write that song?

P.S. I think that Heaven should have about ten thousand teenage girls (Justin Bieber fans, maybe?) standing at the gate to scream for us as we enter that city. Because everyone, at one point or another in their life, should hear that ridiculous level of applause in their honor!

I wrote the song’s first draft but it wasn’t special enough. So I called Lee Black. I’d been wanting to write with him so we worked on it some long-distance and then met at Daywind to knock it out. It was like Extreme Makeover – Song Edition. We cut and rewrote and composed and recomposed. I think we even decomposed a little at one point. Writing with Lee was a great experience. By the way, we’ve written quite a few other great, great tunes since then. Most of them are looking for a good home right now. So call us! I’m not kidding. I think we’ve written at least 2 or 3 other number one songs. Takers?

Regarding other cuts I’m excited about? I just heard that a song I wrote called “Evidence of Love” for an artist named Chris Hester will chart at 26 on the SN Top 80 for the month of March. That’s only the second month on the chart for that song so that’s exciting for me and for Chris. I’ve got some other placements in the works, but I won’t jinx them by announcing them publicly until it’s official.

DJM: Were your characters general, or modeled on real-life characters?

Lee: Ben, was the missionary based on somebody you knew???

Ben: We didn’t have anyone in particular in mind when we started. I think we talked about a missionary named Lottie Moon at one point as kind of a reference, but these are just fictional folks.

DJM: Was it one of those songs where you knew immediately you had something special on your hands, or was it one where you had the feeling, “I hope this is good. and that people will like it”?

Lee: I guess with every song I finish, there’s this immediate high of thinking “OK… this is great!” Then the buzz goes away and I end up at “Nobody will ever cut this.” Just kidding… sort of… not really. But with this one, I honestly felt like we might have hit on something special. It’s just an amazing thought that Almighty God could welcome someone into heaven and say, “Well done…” I thought this song was a cool way to say that.

Ben: I thought the inspiration of the song was something special. As for whether I knew it was a hit? No clue. My mom and my mother-in-law have been convinced since day one.

Lee: The only thing I would add is that I have been a fan of the Talleys – and I mean back to the Roger, Debra, and Kirk days – for YEARS! I’ve pitched them songs for several years and have never gotten a cut. So to have three songs on this project and the first single is a huge thrill. Melissa and I drove up to NQC ’10 for an afternoon to visit with some artists who had cut songs of mine during the past year. When Roger played me a close-to-final mix on Applause, I just bawled… tears of joy. I am grateful for every cut I get, but when an artist that you really love cuts something and gets it right… man, there’s just nothing better. I LOVE what they did with this song. I hope it ministers to a lot of people. I hope it comforts people who have lost loved ones. I hope it challenges people to live lives worthy of hearing “Well done…” when they finally see Jesus face to face.

Ben: I’m a big, big fan of Lee Black’s.  Huge.  And I hope that one day he doesn’t realize that I’m just a hack and ditch me.  The guy’s awesome.

DJM: Applause is on the Talley Trio’s latest project, Stories and Songs.